Pettit proves hard work can attain the American dream

Jill Evans
Special to The Aspen Times

Thomas Jefferson once described the American dream as “one’s ability to build personal success and satisfaction through hard work.” He could have been describing native Basalt resident Libby Pettit.

She graduated from Basalt High School in 1980, went to Colorado College and later transferred to the University of Colorado in Boulder. Pettit began working at a physical therapy clinic during her undergraduate studies. She graduated from CU with degrees in anthropology and kinesiology.

After graduation she moved to Seattle where she discovered that “all I was qualified to do was file papers.” One day, while watching the Denver Broncos play the Seahawks, she called her parents and said she wanted to come home.

She moved back to Basalt and got a job at Aspen Sports, a trademark move for anyone who grew up in the valley. Pettit decided to return to Boulder to get a master’s degree in secondary science, and at the same time she went back to work at the physical therapy clinic. She fell in love with the work, and ended up attending physical therapy school at the University of Colorado.

Upon graduation in 1988, Pettit went to work at Hilltop House, a rehabilitation clinic in Grand Junction. She was living in Basalt with her husband and commuting to Grand Junction for work every week.

Though Pettit said she loved the clinic in Grand Junction and felt no real desire to move back home, an opportunity presented itself and she decided to take on the challenge.

“Once again it was kind of serendipity,” she said.

The opportunity rose out of an effort by Aspen Valley Hospital and a few other organizations to open a clinic in the midvalley. Those plans fell through, however, and Pettit, along with her friend BJ Williams, decided to take the real estate and open Roaring Fork Physical Therapy.

Pettit said she was drawn to physical therapy because “the people who were involved were just that – 100 percent involved.”

She credits much of her passion to her mentors, who taught her a hands-on approach to her occupation. But there’s more to Pettit’s success than just passion; she is also the definition of a hard worker.

She said her job is just one little building block on top of another.

“This job is a solid profession, and it is changing every day, but it is not glamorous, nor do you make a lot of money,” Pettit said. “You simply have to love the small joys of helping people get better.

“People have the desire to get better and they are willing to work with you, and most people do recover.” Pettit said the hardest part of her job is the incapability to heal everyone.

She is well respected by doctors, fellow physical therapists and her patients in the valley and throughout the state of Colorado. She recently received the Colorado Chapter Outstanding Physical Therapist award for 2003.

“I really had no idea that [the award] was a really big deal until I got it home and looked at the other names on the plaque,” she said. “These people were truly pioneers and driving forces in physical therapy in this state. I never saw myself as either of these two things.”

However, her work proves otherwise. She received the Bob Doctor Award in 1996, a recognition of exceptional service to the profession. She has served in many different areas: ethics committee member, chair of the ethics committee, chair of the West district, district delegate, delegate at large, director at large and chapter treasurer.

At this point in her career, though, she is beginning to say no to opportunities to hold offices she has held in the past. Pettit plans to return to school at Regis University to get her doctorate in physical therapy. And she is becoming the “soccer mom” she swore she would never become with her 8-year-old son.

She loves to ski and continues to teach skiing at Aspen Highlands, where she has taught since 1977. She lives with her family on the Fryingpan, just across the river from where she grew up.

Her friend Lisa Mae told her recently, “You’ve got the American dream – a great house, a beautiful family.” Pettit laughed and responded, “I have been really lucky.” Maybe a little lucky, but much of her achievement of the American dream has come through the hard work that Jefferson understood so well.


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